From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman


Twenty-one years ago, Nancy Lublin had a very simple idea — that $5,000 could change the world. Since Nancy’s initial investment in 1997, Dress for Success has grown from a church basement to a global enterprise that has empowered more than 1,000,000 women in thirty countries.

In the many years since I joined Dress for Success I have been fortunate enough to connect with some remarkable women — strong, independent and courageous — as they have first walked through our doors and then gone on to open doors for others. They have broken barriers, triumphed over adversity, shared their stories with the world and now give back to Dress for Success and their communities as donors, mentors and volunteers.

I’ve watched women do what seemed to be impossible, overcome the unthinkable and transform right in front of my eyes. At Dress for Success, we build a woman’s confidence from the inside out. Many of these women have been survivors of domestic violence, the prison system, poverty, debt, homelessness, health battles, traumas and heartache. They have the opportunity to experience a broad range of programs — from job training to financial education to leadership courses — and these programs help fulfill our mission of empowering women to achieve economic independence.

When Chicken Soup for the Soul approached us regarding their new book about “The Empowered Woman” we knew it was the perfect partnership. The thought of 101 powerful stories from women sharing their personal, revealing stories with each other was exciting. And now that we’ve seen the manuscript, we are even more excited. A portion of proceeds from the book sales will go towards funding various Dress for Success programs available to the women we serve, but what’s even better is how much these stories will empower, energize, and even entertain the women who read them.

Sometimes, becoming an empowered woman means going outside your comfort zone and facing your smaller fears, even something as simple as picking up a dead animal you found in the back yard. That’s what Jennifer Kathleen Gibbons tells us in her story in Chapter 2, which is all about “finding your courage.” But sometimes, finding your courage is way more scary, as B.B. Loyd tells us when she describes packing up her kids and flying back to the U.S. from the military base in Germany where they were living with her abusive husband. Miraculously, the skin ailment that had been mystifying her doctors for nine months cleared up within one week of her arriving at her safe new home.

It can also be scary to take a stand and advocate for yourself, and the women who do that deserve to feel very proud, as you’ll see in Chapter 7, about “sticking up for what’s right.” April Knight was a forty-five-year-old widow who really needed her job working in a store, but when her boss told her she would be fired if she didn’t let him engage in inappropriate behavior, she filed a lawsuit against him. Her co-workers shunned her and her family was not supportive, but April won five years’ worth of wages, plus what she really wanted — a letter of apology and a letter of recommendation so she could get another job.

Feeling empowered doesn’t always mean that you have to right a wrong. You can be perfectly content with your life, but realize that’s the problem — you’re content, but stuck in a rut. In Chapter 5, which is all about “stepping outside your comfort zone,” you’ll meet Tonya Abari, who is a plus-sized but fit woman who always loved dancing but was afraid to be seen in a Zumba class wearing her exercise clothing. Not only does Tonya get up the nerve to join a class, she ends up becoming the instructor.

Stepping outside your comfort zone can also mean learning how to do things on your own, and in Chapter 4, you’ll be inspired by the women who resolved to do things alone, including traveling around the world. Wendy Ann Rich was one of them. She decided to make a list of all the things that she was reluctant to do by herself after a friend of hers refused to even enter a restaurant alone. That led Wendy to travel from Canada to Japan on her own, where she says, “I found myself good company for a whole month’s worth of memories.”

Going it alone doesn’t have to mean foreign travel. It can be something simple, like learning to fix your car, or put up wallpaper, or light a fire in the fireplace. Malinda Dunlap Fillingim tells us that she was reluctant to change an unusual light bulb in her home, but her ten-year-old daughter thought that was ridiculous, as Malinda needed that light to read. She said, “You are setting such a bad example for me.” Malinda figured out how to change the bulb, and she did feel pretty good about herself after she did it. She’s one of the many role models in this collection of success stories that run the gamut from tiny victories and changes, to huge life changing ones. You’ll find they are all an inspiration, and you’ll undoubtedly find yourself doing something differently, or bigger, or better in the coming weeks.

We have our own collection of success stories at Dress for Success as well. Tracy Anne is an example. She escaped with her two children from an abusive husband, taking her crucial first step toward empowering herself and becoming self-sufficient. We helped her get back on her feet, and she believes, “Dress for Success is a sisterhood; we’re all on a level playing field when we are there. You’re there to share with a circle of friends, not to feel like you’re less than anyone else.”

We provided Tracy with career counseling and she says, “I realized that I was letting other people write my story and I needed to write my story myself. When you get out there and hear about other people’s lives, you feel so connected to them and no longer embarrassed about what happened to you. I feel like I lost myself to life’s circumstances and Dress for Success helped to get me back.”

Another client, Roxanne from Los Angeles, was laid off from her job and then diagnosed with a terrible, rare disease. She was referred to Dress for Success and she remembers, “I was surrounded by positive women — the more I took action and found the confidence, the more opportunities started presenting themselves, and the more determined I became to win them. I started getting interviews and was able to get beautiful suits from the organization. I felt confident, even with half a smile. They assisted me with my résumé, gave me an Armani suit and I nailed the job interview.” Roxanne says, “Dress for Success was the lighthouse, the beaming light that said ‘we’re here’ as I was going through the storm.”

And here’s one more story for you, from Shannon in Portland, Oregon, who ended up at Dress for Success after her husband’s business was burglarized and he lost the equipment that he needed in order to make a living. Shannon realized she needed to get a job if they were to survive. She had a college degree and she’d gotten plenty of jobs before. But this time it didn’t happen, so she took someone’s advice to go to her local Dress for Success chapter. She says, “When I stepped through the doors of Dress for Success, I felt such a positive energy and hope. They saw right away what I had forgotten that I still possessed. The first time they suited me, they gave me clothes that made me look more poised and charming than I remembered myself being. I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, ‘Wow. I’m a beautiful woman and I’m going to be successful and it’s starting right here.’ It was more than a new outfit. It was an inside-out experience.”

These impactful stories bring so much joy to my life. I am proud to see hundreds of thousands of women around the world taking control, finding their voices, supporting other women and inspiring others with their success.

Today I want to thank you for picking up this book. I know you will finish it a different person than you were when you started it. The power of women sharing their best advice, their disappointments and triumphs, and their growth process with each other is truly astounding. What makes us successful is that we recognize we are in this together. When we actively help and appreciate each other, we are unstoppable.

~Joi Gordon

Chief Executive Officer, Dress for Success Worldwide

March 1, 2018

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